Ron Dennis has confirmed that he will no longer be involved in the running of the McLaren Formula One team as he turns his attention to the automotive arm of his company.
Dennis stepped down as team principal of McLaren Racing in Janurary handing responsibility to Martin Whitmarsh, but he retained close links with the Formula One team and was a visible presence in the garage during the controversial 2009 Australian Grand Prix.
Using a press conference at McLaren’s headquarters in Woking to unveil a restructuring of the McLaren Group, the 61-year-old confirmed that he would be stepping back from grand prix racing to focus on leading McLaren’s new sports car business.
McLaren Automotive will become an independent company later this year with a new range of McLaren sports cars currently in development. Dennis will remain as Executive Chairman of McLaren Automotive
“I passed the role of team principal of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to Martin Whitmarsh on January 16th, the day of the launch of our new Formula 1 car,” said Dennis.
“That day I was asked many times whether I would attend the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. My answer was ‘yes’. I duly attended it – albeit not as the person in charge of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. It was, I admit, a strange feeling.
“The next race, the Malaysian Grand Prix, I watched on TV in the UK – an activity I found surprisingly easy. I’d expected to be more emotional about it, after an unbroken run of attending so many grands prix for so many years.
“I admit I’m not always easy to get on with. I admit I’ve always fought hard for McLaren in Formula 1. I doubt if Max Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone will be displeased by my decision. But no one asked me to do it. It was my decision.
“Equally, I was the architect of today’s restructure of the McLaren Group. Again, no-one asked me to do it. It was my decision.
“I feel enormously enthused about the prospects for the McLaren Group and for McLaren Automotive, and have no qualms about leaving Martin to report to the board regarding matters connected with Formula 1.”
McLaren Team Principal 1981 – 2009
Ron Dennis has been a pioneering force within motorsport since he began his career forty-two years ago as a mechanic with Cooper Racing and Brabham.
He became McLaren team principal in 1981 when he merged his Formula Two ‘Project Four’ outfit with Team McLaren Ltd to form McLaren Racing.
This was to be the catalyst for colossal success over the past few decades with Dennis’ entrepreneurial and leadership skills carrying the team to seven Constructors World Championships and ten Drivers World Championships since 1980.
The decades of success have not been free of controversy though. In 2007 Dennis was seen to be personally under strain during the espionage controversy that saw McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan accused of obtaining confidential Ferrari technical data from Ferrari’s chief engineer Nigel Stepney.
In September, McLaren were found to be in breach of Article 151c of the FIA International Sporting Code – an article that describes acting “against the interests of motor sport generally”. The FIA World Motor Sport Council stripped the team of their 2007 constructors’ points and handed out a US$100 million fine. While the Ferrari management rejoiced at the verdict, many Formula One insiders felt that the evidence that had convicted McLaren was never adequately proven.
18 months later and McLaren again find themselve being hauled before the FIA World Motorsport Council for lying to race stewards after the Australian Grand Prix.
No doubt that Dennis’ finest hour was seeing his protege Lewis Hamilton crowned the youngest Formula One world championship in 2008 having narrowly lost out to Kimi Raikkonen the year before.
Indeed, many see Dennis’ decision to retire as a means to secure the long-term commitment of Hamilton, whose father Anthony has been critical of Dennis’ leadership style.
Dennis relenquished his role as team principal to Martin Whitmarsh at the launch of McLaren’s 2009 car at Woking in January. But he stayed on as McLaren group chairman and retained an influence over the race team. He was present in the garage during the Australian Grand Prix.